Critics’ Picks

Peter Fend, ISIS, 2014, UV inkjet print on aluminum, 12 x 18".

Peter Fend, ISIS, 2014, UV inkjet print on aluminum, 12 x 18".

New York

Peter Fend

Essex Street/Maxwell Graham
55 Hester Street
September 7–October 26, 2014

In “Rebels Are Reasonable,” Fend brings a spirit of understated subversion to three interrelated projects—a deadpan video documenting the ebb and flow of the sea, sets of panels, and a series of redrawings of flags from around the world. In an effort to unseat traditional orientations of countries in the global South to those in the North, Fend exposes the flag as nothing more than an empty symbol often bearing the legacy of imperialist violence.

Flags, 2014, consists of ten aluminum panels over which abstractions of national flags have been printed. Fend illustrates ten distinct regions, including the paragon of colonial history, the United Kingdom, whose flag becomes a distorted, abstract mess that is a far cry from the respectability for which it affectedly strives. Printed with inkjet, the images are marked by horizontal lines, and are revealed to be as flimsy as national borders themselves, or, by extension, the artist’s authorial role. As a white man from the United States, Fend could be thought of as representative of the imperialist project in his well-researched but nevertheless self-aggrandizing reformulation of the borders and cultures of others.

That said, Fend uses the impersonal kitsch of the printer cartridge to take on very serious issues of public space; this method paradoxically effaces the artist’s presence from his self-admittedly personal activist work. We must contend therefore with a productive absence of answers that emerges from Fend’s irreverent and self-critical relationship to materials. By folding criticisms of his own political views into the show, Fend makes a punk-inspired intervention that opens his work to multivalent critique.